Lessons from the United States of Ath­let­ics

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

The United States has won the high­est num­ber of medals at the Rio Olympic Games. The con­sis­tent per­for­mance of the US at the Olympics through the years should give other coun­tries rea­son to re­flect what they should do to im­prove their per­for­mance at the next games.

When one looks at how per­me­at­ing the sports cul­ture is in the US, its suc­cess in the Olympics seems nat­u­ral. I have spent most ofmy ca­reer work­ing in US uni­ver­si­ties, where one of my first cul­ture shocks was to find that some Amer­i­can stu­dents se­lect schools based on sports, while most, if not all, Chi­nese stu­dents’ choices are based on aca­demic rank­ing.

The vi­o­lent be­hav­ior of some ath­letes— for ex­am­ple, when four US swim­mers got drunk and van­dal­ized a gas sta­tion in Rio and cooked up a story to save them­selves— doesn’t take away the im­por­tance of sports in Amer­i­can peo­ple’s lives.

In Syra­cuse, we had great bas­ket­ball teams and the leg­endary Coach JimBoe­heim. InWest Vir­ginia, we had “coal bowl”, games be­tweenWest Vir­ginia Uni­ver­sity andMar­shall Uni­ver­sity from the same state. Sports cul­ture is ev­ery­where.

When I moved to Ok­la­homa, I was cul­tur­ally sand­wiched be­tween two op­pos­ing but equally good (Amer­i­can) foot­ball teams: Ok­la­homa State Uni­ver­sity and Uni­ver­sity of Ok­la­homa.

The fas­ci­na­tion with col­lege sports has also cas­caded down to K12 schools. In Ok­la­homa, my chil­dren some­times had “jersey days”, when stu­dents were per­mit­ted to wear jer­seys for the team of their choice, which of­ten de­faulted to OU or OSU.

In south­ern US, where I now live, if your chil­dren don’t par­tic­i­pate in any sports, it raises eye­brows, es­pe­cially among par­ents in high school. The sheer num­ber of teams even a small town boasts of re­ally amazes me. They are formed by schools, clubs and gen­er­ally par­ents, who push their chil­dren to prac­tice and play, just as we Chi­nese par­ents push our chil­dren to drill in math or pound at the piano.

I am­in­creas­ingly re­al­iz­ing why sports mat­ters in a per­son’s growth. While the US has eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble neigh­bor­hood swim­ming pools, ten­nis courts in pub­lic parks and bas­ket­ball racks in the back­yard, Chi­nese schools are lucky if they do not con­stantly haveMrHol­land’s Opus mo­ments in mu­sic, sports and other “nonessen­tials”.

Th­ese are dis­missed as sub­jects which are not tied to the col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion that as­sess mas­tery of knowl­edge in sub­jects such as Chi­nese, English, math, physics, chem­istry, bi­ol­ogy, his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence. One does have to take phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, but it is usu­ally mea­sured in pass/not pass grad­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there is zero-sum think­ing among Chi­nese that those who have able bod­ies of­ten have in­ca­pable minds, which can­not be fur­ther from the truth. More of­ten than not, bod­ies fuel minds. In JohnMe­d­ina’s book Brain Rules, the first rule is that “ex­er­cise boosts brain power”.

In­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment is but one of the many de­vel­op­ments a per­son needs. Over the years I have had many op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn from Amer­i­can par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors why they put chil­dren through sports. It is not just for the sen­sa­tion of win­ning. They want their chil­dren to go through some type of sports to ac­quire life skills. Stu­dents play­ing sports learn to take or­ders from coaches, co­or­di­nate ef­forts with team­mates, work to achieve tan­gi­ble goals, sus­tain set­backs and fail­ures, and re­solve con­flicts when they come.

Th­ese are skills to be honed over­time and will be used most of the time in later life. If Chi­nese par­ents fo­cus only on test-driven skills, they can­not pre­pare their chil­dren for many other races in life.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.